Outside looking in: Dallas and Houston are more alike than they are different. Texas' two largest cities are sprawling, urbane population centers with mostly robust economies, decent tourism and as much culture as the howdy-do's can muster. Differences seem insignificant: Houston's a port, while Dallas is landlocked. Houston has higher humidity and atmospheric haze. Dallas has ozone pollution and that smell coming in on Interstate 30 from the west. All things considered, Dallas and Houston shake out pretty much the same.
Inside looking out: Among artists and the art-periphery, Houston and Dallas are as different as realism and abstraction. On the surface, the numbers of traditional galleries, art museums and contemporary art spaces may be about the same. But Houston's infrastructure seems to nurture its visual arts wunderkinds with county and city money, grants, fellowships, sponsorships, public art projects and an attitude that fosters proliferation of artist-run gallery/studio spaces in every corner of the city.
"It's hard to quantify, and hard to explain," says Houston artist Teresa O'Connor, a University of Houston fine arts grad and proprietor of Commerce Street Artist Warehouse. "But I have noticed that there is an encouragement of artists here that gives us the courage and desire to push the envelope. Big-name gallerists in Houston give a fair share of exhibition support to artwork that's lacking in Dallas.
Randall Garrett gives more than lip service to edgy art here at Plush, his alternative art space downtown. "We decided not to take 'no' for an answer," Garrett says. "Many of the Plush artists have a self-motivated aesthetic that doesn't easily conform to gallery expectations. We've resolved to work for change by doing our own shows, rather than cynically opting out of the whole system." Garrett says he isn't down on Dallas, exactly, but there isn't the spirit of creative chaos that he says swells in Houston. "Sometimes I think if we looked at the big triumvirate of North Texas art--Dallas, Fort Worth, Denton--as a whole, we'd be on equal footing with Houston. But that feels like cheating."
Garrett and O'Connor are cheating a bit in a groundbreaking collaborative two-exhibition event billed as a cross-Texas battle of the visual artists in Dallas and Houston. Plush will show O'Connor-curated Houston artists in its South Akard space; CSAW will open a Dallas artists exhibition curated by Garrett on May 10. They're calling it Houston vs. Dallas; Dallas vs. Houston and working it as a cowboy ass-kickin' of the spaced-out astronauts, and vice versa. Both art spaces are featuring solid, professional shows of work in every medium by line-crossing talents.
The Houston artists, by name and self-described oeuvre, are: Scott Burns--watercolor robots and devil babes; Sean Flournoy--hot-rod minimalist paintings; Jewel Baird Gleeson--"jewel" paintings; Aimee Jones--post-teen-age decal-omania; Justin Kidd--high-concept photos; Wyatt Nash--3-D stuff; Teresa O'Connor--run-amok fabric landscapes; Betsy Odom--strange geometric conglomerates; Frank Anthony Porreco III--artist as 1970s pop icon; and Jason Villegas--sculptural felt objects.
The Dallas crew, ditto, are: Robert Boland--used sock-puppet installation; Kelli Connell--dual-identity photographs; Zach Eichelberger--fashion-based paintings; Randall Garrett--ghetto-friendly assemblage; Simeen Ishaque--Pakistani-American conceptual; Keitha Lowrance--department store minimalist video; Robert Moore--esoteric abstract paintings; James Eck Rippie--experimental music; and Michael Wynne--lowbrow modernism knockoffs.
If you can make both shows, you can compare and contrast the creative juices of Texas' top towns for yourself. If you decide to buy something, just remember one more local truism: Dallas art sells better in Houston; Houston art sells better in Dallas.